A Lifetime of Work

The work of artist Mike Kelley (b. 1954 – 2012) embraced performance, installation, drawing, painting, video, sound works, and sculpture. Beginning in the late 1970’s with solo performances, image/​text works, and gallery and site-specific installations, Kelley came to prominence in the 1980’s with a series of sculptures composed of common craft materials. His later work addressed architecture and filmic narrative through the theory of repressed memory syndrome, and a sustained biographic and pseudo-biographic inquiry into his own aesthetic and social history. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of our time, Kelley produced a body of deeply innovative work mining American popular culture and both modernist and alternative traditions. 

The Big Tent, performance at Foundation for Art Resources, Los Angeles, 1979.

Video by: Art21, art21​.org.

Art in the Twenty-First Century: Mike Kelley in Memory”. Art21 is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging and educating audiences about contemporary visual art and artists.

Kelley working in his studio, 2010. Photo: Jenny Warren


Mike Kelley’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions including, Kandors: 1999-2011, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, 2017; Memory Ware, Hauser & Wirth, New York, 2016; My House: Mike Kelley and Ryan Trecartin, Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver, 2015; a touring retrospective, Mike Kelley, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2012, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2013, Museum of Modern Art/PS1, New York, 2013 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2014; the permanent public work and accompanying exhibition, Mobile Homestead at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2013; Mike Kelley: Exploded Fortress of Solitude, Gagosian Gallery, London, 2011; Mike Kelley: Kandors, Museen Haus Lange, Haus Esters, Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Krefeld, Germany, 2011; Horizontal Tracking Shots, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009; Mike Kelley: Educational Complex Onwards: 1995-2008, WIELS Centre d'Art Contemporain, Brussels, Belgium, 2008; Mike Kelley: Kandors, Jablonka Galerie, Berlin, 2007; Petting Zoo at Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2007; Profondeurs Vertes at the musée du Louvre, 2006; Day Is Done, a sculpture and video installation at the Gagosian Gallery, NY, 2005; The Uncanny, a curatorial project presented at the Tate Liverpool and at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien in 2004; a 1993 traveling retrospective of his work that opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Documenta IX (1992) and Documenta X (1997), in Kassel, Germany; five appearances at the Whitney Biennial; and many other solo museum and gallery exhibitions.

John Glenn Memorial Detroit River Reclamation Project (Including the Local Culture Pictorial Guide, 1968-1972, Wayne/Westland Eagle), 2001. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

He was a member of Destroy All Monsters, an improvisational noise band (featuring artists Cary Loren and Jim Shaw) which has performed internationally, and the visual art wing of the group, The Destroy All Monsters Collective, was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. He has published several volumes of critical writings, Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism (2002), Minor Histories: Statements, Conversations, Proposals (2004), and Mike Kelley: Interviews, Conversations and Chit-Chat (2005) a collection of Kelley’s interviews with notable contemporary figures.

Mike Kelley received a BFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1976) and a MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (1978). Awards include, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, National Endowment for the Visual Arts Fellowship, the Awards in the Visual Arts grant, the Skowhegan Medal for Mixed Media, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, the Distinguished Alumnus/a Award from the California Institute of the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Mike Kelley lived and worked in Los Angeles, California.